showing at Hayward until 8 January
Article commissioned by Artwrit whose much more professional edit you can read here: artwrit.com.
My unedit filed here just for a laugh and by kind permission of Artwrit...
Strings of greying underpants hang like washing on a line. A smoke filled bubble emerges from a machine that turns out to be Nothing, and wobbles away, goalless and gentle, seemingly out of place in this brutal environment. It bursts, a peace bomb or, in the artist's words, like a 'fart from within the trousers'. In a moment another one appears to take its place.
At first glance Pipilotti Rist's work appears fun, playful, a little absurd. On one level it is all of these things, on another it engages a meaningful existential investigation into what creates barriers and the ways in which those barriers may be peaceably transgressed. I'm reminded of Wittgenstein's assertion that a serious philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.
Rist is a video artist who's working method is to transgress boundaries in terms of both the content and presentation of her work. There is an atmosphere of something deeply imaginative, free from the usual ways of being in and perceiving the world. “I tend to feel the video pieces inside myself,” the artist reveals. The statement inspires me and I want to know how these works feel inside me if I attempt to break the habit of a life time and engage them as much through my body as through my intellectualising, controlling mind.
I'm Not The Girl Who Misses Much (1986) is a five minute video played inside a conical structure protruding aggressively from the wall by several meters and into which I must insert my head via one of several holes. The encasement is entitled, significantly, A Peak Into The West – A Look Into The East. The film shows what appears to be a semi-clad Rist frenzidly gyrating her body as though in trance-like ecstasy, chanting the words of the works title. The film speeds up, slows down, speeds up again, the image is variously distorted, the time continuum illusion well and truly messed with.
As with mantra the repetition of a single phrase over and over eventually tricks the power crazed discursive mind into releasing its vice like grip on our experience of the world and for a few moments the body is revealed as the existential mediator it is. Conversely, at that moment, my body is outside my experience of this world of the girl who doesn't miss much. My head, tucked safely inside the cone, my body elsewhere, missing. A sensation of dislocation arises in which I feel, curiously, safer, estranged from the vulnerabilising corporeality of my body's very apparent and very alarming, to the ego at least, impermanence. Je pense donc je suis, leaving me free to ignore the hints given by the slow disintegration of my body and those bodies around me, that this state of affairs will not continue indefinitely. Like the air bubble, I will soon be gone, replaced by another.
Blue Bodily Love Letter and Red Bodily Love Letter are two films in which the camera travels over a naked female form. For Rist the female body symbolises humanity, not so much sexuality, more innocence and a sense of coming home to oneself. This pair of works concern themselves with Love. Rist points out that in German to 'fall in love' is verlieben; liebe translates as 'love' but comes from the word lieben which means literally 'to embody'. The German speaking world then recognises, in the very structure of its language, that love arises and takes place within the body. Far from being a dangerous, contaminated place, the body is the very source of all that is good.
If the viewer seeks to interpret Rist's work on a purely intellectual or theoretical level he may find it lacking. Such a lack is not inherent in the work but in the method of engagement. This work gives most when it is engaged in the manner in which it was created: through a sensory, real-time investigation into the body. It seems to suggest that by embracing the wisdom and vulnerability of our bodies we may go beyond our corporeal, existential fear and thereby break down some of the barriers standing in the way of joyful inter-relationship.